We're Voting Now! (Woman's Home Companion, November 1920)
**This is an article transcribed verbatim as printed in Woman's Home Companion in 1920. This is posted for historic content and shows a glimpse into what voting was like the first year that women were allowed to vote.
We're Voting Now, And We Find That Things are Oh, So Different!
A pleasing picture of the frail enfranchised at home
By Willa Roberts
I suspect that to many who have always voted, unquestioned, and unquestioning their right, the spectacle of women going forth with a newly acquired vote offers a picture almost as reprehensible as that suggested by the darky laundress's song. Every week over her ironing board her cheerful voice would lift musically from the kitchen, and over and over again the refrain woud resound through the house:
"Ah'm going' to de pahty,
'Deed Ah am,
All dressed up -
Mah razuh in mah han',"
Indeed, to the gloomiest of these spectators it must be even sadder, for the darky in the song at least knew his razor of old, while we not only have the menace of a vote, but we don't, they fear, know what to do with it. Ah me, the world is not what it was! "What with prohibition and woman suffrage coming in," sorrowfully observed a gallant gentleman, "we won't have any home life left." No, things are not as they were under the rule of good old Yesterday. Still, there are compensations.
For one I find some of them lurking in the flattering esteem in which I - once a mere disregarded voteless female - am now held by the candidates for high office under our elective government. Never a one that doesn't send me a nicely-put, cordially-worded letter; many overpower me with typographically correct postcards bidding me "Make a Cross HERE;" and one even gets so intimate as to send me a photograph not merely of himself, but of his wife and all their offspring. It is very pleasant.
I may have attached myself to Tammany's fairest promises or I may have aligned my cherished vote with a forward-promising Republican, or even ventured with a new party still struggling toward a name and a purpose. It makes no difference. There is balm enough in Gilead, and no lack of stamps to convey it to me. My mail box is heaped and running over. Daily on my way to business I stop and struggle with a stiff key and a too small box, in order to extract six, eight and ten letters all couched in these polite, even flowery, terms, and all offering comradeship and warm friendship, splendid civic progress, a stern hand against extravagance, and a beautiful idealism wonderfully and fearfully married to a hard-fisted practicality - all this is mine in return for the small consideration of my vote.
Of course, I try not to get too puffed up about it. I do not wish to vaunt too much over my new status. It is a commonplace that people look at you as an example of their trade rather than as an individual. I realize that it is an object rather than as a being that I am approached. My personal hairdresser has already accustomed me to this attitude. She speaks of us all as "heads." "You should see some heads that come in here," she says. "My, there's a head comes every Tuesday that takes a whole hour to dry!" And now, added to this, we have become votes. It is a thought at once humbling and exalting. Stripped of all our other attributes, we remain as abstracted votes, approached as a vote, cajoled, rebuked, entreated as a vote. It raises many points of interest.
For instance, it used to be like this: Our family would sit about the table, idling, and all the men of the family would give out their political opinions. If female voice intruded it was interrupted, disregarded, occasionally commented upon with extreme frankness. But now! I say, "Well, I think-" and I am listened to quietly, and after I have finished, a persuasive masculine voice says quite politely, "Now, Julia, you don't want to look at it that way; you ought to take into consideration the fact that-" Ah! It was not always like that.
The again: I have a friend who has been married these several years to a man who is, as they say, "interested in politics." This means that whenever a local election occurs in their town (and somehow they seem to have elections in North Harville very frequently) Tom Mather begins and eight in the morning and labors until twelve at night for his cause - which is his party.
His shoe store is left to his clerks, his wife and children listen with resignation to his recurrent platform speeches, and the cook threatens to leave if dinner isn't to be served a little more regularly at six-thirty instead of scrambling from five o'clock to nine, or back to a quarter of eight. Not a voter escapes him. His oldest friends and the newest upstarts are alike halted by his inquiries, and it would be a bold and brave man that would break lances against him To him is the main credit due that his party can point with pride to the prosperous town of North Harville and say, "It's always voted right!"
But now how will it be? Louise Mather has a vote this year, and Louise, while a gentle, uncombative soul, has a stability that might well be envied by Gilbraltar. What, oh, what, will the sad consequences if this year - when Tom leans comfortable back in his favorite chair and, flicking the ashes from his cigar into the fire, prepares to tell his family Harville's fate for the next term - Louise should interrupt him! Not that she hasn't before this. But Tom was never one to notice trifles. The crackling of thorns under a pot, the voice of a voteless woman in his home, what were these to halt a gallant campaigner? But a vote - that is a very different thing.
"Well," Tom will say with the serenity of a firmly established king-maker, "I see that old Borden wants to run again as mayor. Thought he'd had about enough; but I guess we might as well give him one more term. He'll get it sure this year."
If Louise continues reading her book or hemming Jane's dress, all will be well. But how will it be if her amiable but unmovable voice shall be lifted up into, "Oh, I don't know, Tom. You know, women can vote in Harville this year; and most of them don't like Mr. Borden. I think he's an old fool myself."
That will be catastrophe indeed. Not only rebellion at home, but the specter rises of a whole town of women going out and nullifying their husbands' legal voted wishes. What good will it do to buttonhole Tim Sullivan and Joe Martin if at home their faithless wives are sitting beyond his reach, waiting for an opportunity to defy their lawful husbands at the polls? Unthinkable!
Then there was the once-happy man that who lived in a remote part of a suburb, and took his car to the polls in the vert bad weather of election day, and wouldn't go back for his wife because she was going to vote for the other party. I leave to any unprejudiced mind the question of whether she got to the polls. And what's become of the peace that once brooded brooded over his hearth?
Another of the great schisms that the new day threatens is over the reckless way women talk about their vote. Of course, it may be that men tell each other in the strict privacy of purely masculine groups just what candidate is going to receive the crown of a vote from them. But I doubt it.
Well, all this, I observe, is very different among the ladies, God bless 'em. Oh, it may be due to anything you like - new at the game, pleased with a straw - but the fact is the same. I believe that few women see why ballots should be secret. Certainly they do not care. They have felt not the age-long heavy hand of the boss, and they have no nice sense of delicacy about the ballot.
Last fall, when women first voted in our town, we conferred solemnly over our sample ballots. "I've certainly got to take this with me. I'll be lost if I forget it," we said meekly, or, "I never can remember which is the assemblyman that voted against the teachers' bill, and which is the pro-German, and who is the Independent judge."
And in the voting booth there was the same naïveté: "You don't have to pull that curtain," said one indignantly honest woman as the watcher at the polls adjusted the booth. "I'm not ashamed of my vote. I'm going to vote for Mr. Smith, and I don't care who knows it." And outside, the ward boss shook his head and sighed, and the earth tottered on its axis and then recovered, and kept on turning as best it might.
Then, too, when we find ourselves gathered together nowadays for our new essays into political paths, all is very different from our dingy past. Mild ignoring and biting scorn are alike outgrown fashions for the politically-minded, office-aspiring gentlemen. Around convention halls there is something very devastating going on. It's nothing more nor less than tea parties. Yes! It was darkly prophesied that we would do just that - insert into the clear atmosphere of pure politics the pollution of a cup of tea.
But, alas for prophets, the deed is not of our doing. These same politicians are the criminals. Outside the assembly-room of a recent large congress of women, waited, hat in hand and wife in assistance, promising candidates for the Chief Magistracy of our country. And we would, wouldn't we, come and have a cup of tea and a sandwich? If we escaped, it only proved an added encouragement to the candidate whose tea-room was next down the corridor. We had rejected his rival's offer, we were surely his rightful victim. And if in the end we succumbed, in we went to as vast and delicious an array of lemon and cream and petits fours, and ribbon sandwiches as ever the Wednesday Afternoon Club of far Timbertop, Wisconsin, had aspired to.
And why not, forsooth? Were we not now a vote? And must not a vote eat? Certainly.
Yet, after all, it is an act that suggest a graceful bowing to events, so that, perhaps, to seem to carp at it may savor of that hated habit of casting up. After all, the past is the past - and should not have its slumbers too much disturbed.
Oh, there's no doubt of it, voting lends a new zest to life. Suffragist or anti, raging feminist or clinging femininity, now we have the vote, and whether it was thrust upon us or achieved after long struggles, here it is, and something must be done about it.
One of the most dauntless survivors of the pre-vote era placards its windows with the reluctant sign, "Women Voters' Anti-Suffrage League," and never even smiles. But for the most part we are all of us less interested nowadays in how we feel about getting a vote, and more concerned with what to do with it.
It adds another voice to the family discussions, at all events; it increases the gayety of the nations in convention assembled, and it establishes the fact that , whether or not women are people, they are at least voters, and, as such, worthy of a place on the mailing lists of campaign headquarters. And who can ask for more?